"Marmite" film alert - some people will like this and others will hate it.
Most of those who like Jack Black's style of humour, and many of those who enjoyed the original UNCENSORED satire as Jonathan Swift actually wrote it - NOT the sanitised version usually shown to kids - will find this film at least reasonably entertaining.
Most of those who don't like Jack Black's style, and those who imagine that one of the abbreviated (e.g. heavily bowlderised) versions of "Gullivers' Travels" is a classic book, will be disappointed.
This film is a 21st-century adaptation of the first two books of Swift's 1726 satire by the same name. Jack Black's central character, Lemuel Gulliver, is a postroom junior on a New York magazine who, trying to impress the travel editor (Amanda Peet) on whom he has a massive crush, volunteers to undertake a writing assignment on boat in the Bermuda Triangle. After running into a freak storm Gulliver finds himself in a strange world where humans can be very different sizes ...
Swift's book works on three different levels
1) At the most obvious level, "Gulliver's Travels" was one of the first adventure novels ever written (it was to some extent a response to "Robinson Crusoe" which had come out a few years before.) This film roughly follows the same story, though it is more of a comedy or farce than a thriller.
2) On another level, Swift is making observations on the human condition. When Gulliver finds himself among the much smaller Liliputian people, who see him as a giant, then among the much larger Brobdingnagians, to whom he is no larger than a toy, this is a metaphor for the way we can see ourselves as tiny cogs in the wheel of society or try to become important and make a difference for good or evil.
This idea of an ordinary person who becomes a giant and a hero is a huge part of the timeless appeal of the "Gulliver's travels" story and the most memorable scenes in this film for me were not Jack Black's clowning around, but the scenes which really handled that message well. For example, as he is about to go into a battle to save Lilliput from the baddie, knowing that it will be a difficult fight to win but that he is his friends' only hope, Gulliver is reminded that back home he is only the mail guy. Summoning all his courage and determination, he replies, "That's not who I am today." For me that moment was worth watching the film for.
3) On a third level, Dean Swift's book was a thinly disguised attack on those who were or had been his contemporary political and philosphical opponents over several decades in the late 17th and early 18th centures, from the Whig government and establishment to the Royal Society. An attack so fierce that the book had to be published anonymously at first for fear of prosecution, and the publisher deleted a few scenes he didn't dare include and added a section praising Queen Anne ...
Needless to say the film-makers wisely didn't even try to repeat most of this material for a 21st century audience, but there are a couple of exceptions.
First, the original book contains quite a bit of material ridiculing those who were willing to fight wars or execute "heretics" over religious differences, often trifling ones, and a version of this message, reasonably true to the spirit of the book if modernised and simplified, makes it into the film as an "anti-war" theme.
Second, the film makers have included the scene in the original book where Gulliver puts out a fire at the palace and saves the lives of one or more members of the royal family by urinating on the fire, causing some to hail him as a hero and others to accuse him of lese-majeste. Without the original savagely ironic eighteenth century political context this will probably come over to most viewers, especially those who have never read the unabridged book, as crude toilet humour. However, it really was Dean Jonathan Swift, not Jack Black or the screenwriters of this film, who came up with that one. It may have been removed from sanitised kid's versions of the book but I assure you, it is in the unexpurgated original!
So I'm afraid I fell about laughing when I read some of the reviews here which accuse the makers of the film of "wrecking a classic book" and gave that scene as an example of something they didn't like.
The biggest problem with this film could easily have been that it is so much a vehicle for one actor. When C.S. Lewis was describing how to put a successful story together he wrote that the more dramatic the events of the plot the more ordinary the hero or heroine should be, giving the specific examples that Gulliver was a very ordinary man and Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) was a very ordinary girl, but had they not been they would have wrecked their books.
This film comes very close indeed to falling into the trap C.S. Lewis was warning about because Gulliver as played by Black is such a predominant figure. But it stops just short of crossing over the line beyond which it would indeed have wrecked the film for me.
Nevertheless a high-powered cast was mostly under-used. The main exceptions were Chris O'Dowd as the general of Lilliput's army, who made an excellent villain, and Jason Segal as Gulliver's best friend among the Lilliputions. Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate as the King and Queen of Lilliput, and Emily Blunt as their daughter Princess Mary were excellent but largely wasted. Amanda Peet was delightful as Darcy Silverman, the travel editor at the magazine where Gulliver works and the romantic interest for him, but it isn't a major role because she is literally in a different world from Gulliver for most of the film.
Special effects were so clever that you hardly noticed them - and I mean that as a complement. Gulliver being much larger that the people around him was made to look quite natural.
Overall: a lot of people clearly hated this, other loved it. Personally I found the film to be on the good side of OK.